US jury to decide if Palestinian groups to blame for attacks

AP News
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Posted: Feb 19, 2015 5:59 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — The PLO and Palestinian Authority should not be blamed for terror attacks in Israel that killed or wounded Americans in the early 2000s, the groups' lawyer told a New York City jury Thursday, but the victims' attorney insisted the organizations sanctioned the bloodshed.

The civil case in Manhattan and another in Brooklyn have emerged as the most notable attempts by American victims of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to use U.S. courts to seek damages that could reach into the billions of dollars.

In closing arguments, defense attorney Mark Rochon said there was no proof Palestinian authorities sanctioned the six attacks as alleged in a 2004 lawsuit brought by 10 American families, even though members of their security forces were convicted in Israeli courts on charges they were involved.

"What they did, they did for their own reasons ... not the Palestinian Authority's," he said in federal court in Manhattan.

Plaintiff attorney Kent Yalowitz countered by putting a photo of Yasser Arafat on a video screen, then telling the jury that the Palestinian leader had approved martyrdom payments and incited the violence with anti-Israeli propaganda.

"The big dog was Yasser Arafat," he said. "Yasser Arafat was in charge."

The suit against the PLO and Palestinian Authority and the other against the Jordan-based Arab Bank had languished for years as the defendants challenged the American courts' jurisdiction. Recent rulings found that they should go forward under the Anti-Terrorism Act, a more than two-decade-old law that allows victims of U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations to seek compensation for pain and suffering, loss of earnings and other hardship.

Yalowitz recommended the jury award various sums, including $15 million for a parent who lost a child, $10 million for anyone who lost a spouse and $12 million for child who lost a parent. One plaintiff who was disabled for life after he was hit by a bomb blast at age 7 should get $19.5 million, he said.

Jurors have heard testimony from family members of people killed in the attacks and survivors who never fully recovered. The plaintiffs also relied on internal records showing the Palestinian Authority continued to pay the salaries of employees who were put behind bars in terror cases and paid benefits to families of suicide bombers and gunmen who died committing the attacks.

"Where are the documents punishing employees for killing people?" Yalowitz asked. "We don't have anything like that in this case. ... They didn't roll that way."

On Thursday, Rochon argued that it was illogical to conclude that payments made after the attacks motivated the attackers in the first place.

"You know a lot about prisoner payments and martyr payments," he said. "Do you have any evidence that they caused these attacks? No."

Last year, a Brooklyn jury decided that Arab Bank should be held responsible for a wave of Hamas-orchestrated suicide bombings that left Americans dead or wounded based on claims the financial institution knowingly did business with the terror group.

A separate phase of the Brooklyn trial dealing with damages, set to begin in May, will feature testimony from victims.